What’s The Most Realistic Assessment Of Russian-Pakistani Relations?

What’s The Most Realistic Assessment Of Russian-Pakistani Relations?

Andrew Korybko

Russia and Pakistan presently enjoy an historically unprecedented closeness in bilateral relations after their rapid rapprochement of the past few years. The improvement of bilateral ties was initially driven by shared security concerns stemming from ISIS-K’s rise in Afghanistan, which prompted them to coordinate their diplomatic approach to resolving that war-torn country’s long-running conflict. The resultant Moscow peace process brought them closer together, which roughly coincided with the decision to hold annual joint military drills. From there, relations comprehensively improved and have evolved to the point where they’re now cooperating on the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline (PSGP) and exploring the potentialof working together to actualize February’s agreement to build a Pakistan-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan (PAKAFUZ) railway that might one day extend to Russia.

Despite all of this occurring against the backdrop of India’s unprecedented military-strategic shift towards the US due to their shared goal of “containing” China, relevant developments in the Russian-Pakistani relationship were never aimed against either of those two countries. India consistently remained Russia’s top regional partner for historical and pragmatic reasons, the latter of which relate to their similar roles as Great Powers in the emerging Multipolar World Order and New Delhi’s dependence on Moscow for fulfilling its military needs. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that India’s sudden moves towards the US inadvertently provoked some unexpected distrust in its relations with Russia, which was concerned about the grand strategic impact that these anti-Chinese actions might have on Eurasian stability. This made Russia less sensitive to India’s concerns about its growing ties with Pakistan.

Up until the point when India began significantly reorienting itself towards the US, Russia was always very careful to avoid offending it. In fact, one can even argue that India indirectly exerted influence over the Pakistani dimension of Russia’s South Asian strategy, which Moscow accepted out of fear of losing out on profitable military-industrial contracts to its Western competitors if it moved too far and too fast in “normalizing” its ties with Islamabad. The unintended distrust that temporarily began to creep into their relations as a result of India’s abrupt military-strategic shift towards America freed Russia from these prior concerns and resulted in the Kremlin completing the last piece of its “Greater Eurasian Partnership” (GEP) puzzle, which was pragmatically improving relations with Pakistan. This in turn helped advance its 21st-century grand strategic goal of becoming Eurasia’s supreme “balancing” force.

The long-overdue candid discussions that Russia and India began having in earnest last year continued into the present one and led to them finally resolving their differences of perception about each other’s growing ties with their American and Pakistani rivals, respectively. These two Great Powers pragmatically agreed to respect one another’s relations with third countries, which restored the damaged trust between them over the past years. Eagerly wanting to make up for lost time and realizing that they share complementary “balancing” visions, Russia and India committed to coordinate their corresponding capabilities in order to maximally optimize the collective impact that they can have in shaping the emerging Multipolar World Order in Eurasia. Thisglobal geostrategic game-changer was the outcome of the recent Putin-Modi Summit and one of the most important developments this century.

Just like Russian-Pakistani relations aren’t aimed against India, Russian-Indian ones aren’t aimed against Pakistan either even though the military dimension of Moscow’s ties with New Delhi understandably concerns Islamabad. Be that as it may, that aspect should also be interpreted through Russia’s larger Eurasian “balancing” act between India and China, to whom it sells equally strategic and high-quality weapons. It does this in order to maintain the balance of power between them so as to encourage political solutions to their disputes instead of one or the other side gaining a military advantage that they might leverage to resolve their issues in a forceful way like the US wants. This “military diplomacy” is one of the pillars of Russia’s Eurasian-wide “balancing” act, which it also practices between other pairs of rivals across the supercontinent such as Armenia & Azerbaijan and China &Vietnam.

The de facto Russian-Indian hemispheric-wide “balancing” alliance that’s driven by the Kremlin’s 21st-century grand strategy must be acknowledged by Pakistaniexperts as soon as possible. The country needs to understand the larger context in which its relations with Russia are evolving. The overly optimistic assessments shared by some over the years of “Russia ditching India for Pakistan” have been discredited by this latest game-changing development, though that doesn’t mean that the progress that’s been made in bilateral ties risks being reversed. To the contrary, the continued strengthening of Russian-Pakistani relations along the connectivity (PAKAFUZ), diplomatic (Afghanistan), and energy (PSGP) vectors and their comprehensive expansion into other spheres with time will help Moscow manage New Delhi in a friendly way the same as New Delhi’s ties with Washington do that for Moscow.

In other words, while the bond between Russia and India is basically unbreakable as proven by their ability to overcome significant differences of perception related to their respective “balancing” acts over the past few years, they each understand the pragmatic need to continue developing their relations with non-traditional partners like Pakistan and the US respectively in order to maintain the balance between one another. Neither Russia nor India has a “veto” over the other’s ties with third countries like was arguably the case in the past when it came to the influence that India exerted over Russia’s relations with Pakistan. This newfound freedom enables them to confidently advance their complementary “balancing” interests in a friendly way which also aims to prevent either of them from becoming disproportionately dependent on the other and thus risk turning into their “junior partner”.

The “new normal” that nowadays characterizes the special and privileged Russian-Indian Strategic Partnership is therefore an improvement from the prior one because it acknowledges the complexities of the contemporary international order and respects each country’s right to comprehensively develop their relations with any third party. Since the difference of perception between Russia and India over their counterpart’s ties with non-traditional partners like Pakistan and the US respectively (which just so happen to be their counterpart’s rivals) has been resolved, these Great Powers have been able to get back on track by reviving their de facto alliance from the Old Cold War in a way which aims to make it just as geostrategically consequently in the New Cold War. The primary difference, however, is that this time it’s predicated on managing Eurasia’s balance of power instead of unilaterally disrupting it.

With this insight in mind, Pakistani experts should hopefully be able to formulate the most effective policies for advancing their country’s interests, both generally speaking and particularly when it comes to Russia. The realistic assessment of bilateral relations that was shared in this analysis following the geostrategically game-changing outcome of the latest Putin-Modi Summit should ideally advance that pragmatic aim, but clinging to discredited expectations and paradigms won’t just impede effective policy formulation, but might even end up being counterproductive in the long term. It’s therefore of premier importance that Pakistani experts accept this new regional reality brought about by the latest developments in Russia’s approach to South Asia and learn how to flexibly adapt to it in a way that leads to the maximum convergence of every relevant party’s interests.

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